Despite the fact that the focus of this blog is writing on movies and my reflections on them, I have to veer a bit off track here. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released ten years ago by Neutral Milk Hotel in 1998. Pitchfork Media did a little write up in commemoration of the album and had people reflect on how the album has affected them, inspiring me to do a little reflection of my own.
Just this past week at my (drab) job at Barnes & Noble I was walking around, as usual when there are no customers, straightening the CDs out, daydreaming, whathaveyou. Out of nowhere, I happened to find In the Aeroplane Over the Sea filed away, along with two other NMH recordings. On sight of it I nearly teared up. That instantly recognizable cover with the tambourine-headed woman in the ocean. Normally B&N doesn't carry Neutral Milk Hotel stuff, so I asked my manager if he had special ordered them in, and he did. Are you into their stuff? he asked me. Yes! I said, almost gushing. I told him how I listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea nearly straight for three years on repeat. He gave a little surprised look and then said, Yeah, good stuff. I waited for more to come out of him, to share in the glow of Neutral Milk Hotel's magical wonder, but the conversation ended there. Somehow I felt like he didn't get it.
Whether he did or not, I can't know. But the instant nostalgia of seeing that cover hit me powerfully. The following day I listened to the album straight through in the car, not having done so in what seemed like way too long.
There is a magical element to this album, an otherworldliness that transports you and so wholly surrounds you and blocks you from the rest of the world and reality that you feel as if for those moments you listen to these songs you inhabit some other dimension. A world with green fleshy flowers and wet, warm chests and pianos filled with flames. I remember listening to "Oh, Comely" in high school and weeping, listening to "Two-Headed Boy" and being convinced that the song was about me, though I had no idea what any of it meant. There is so much to tell about these songs, about the way they blend together, the way Jeff's voice is almost supernatural - brutal and beautiful - but in the end it's something beyond description, it's something personal.
I have a few favorite albums, ones that I can play over and over without getting tired of them (the first four Talking Heads albums especially), but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is something else; it's an album that completely transports me every time I alone with it, it's that aural comfort blanket that I will always cherish.